Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)(3)

Written By: Cinda Williams Chima



That was when his father spotted Adrian lurking nearby. “Ash! This is a surprise,” he said, using the nickname he favored. A-S-H, for Adrian sul’Han. Striding toward him, he extended the flowers. “What do you think?” he said, almost shyly. “Will your mother like them?”

“That depends on how much trouble you’re in,” Adrian said, extracting a faint smile from his father. They both understood what the flowers were for, and why his father was in the market on this particular day.

Adrian’s older sister, Hanalea ana’Raisa, the princess heir, had died six months ago, at the summer solstice, in a skirmish along the border with Tamron. From the looks of things, she’d been the last one standing, taking down six Ardenine mudbacks before she went down herself. Her bound captain, Simon Byrne, had died at her side.

The Ardenine general, Marin Karn, had severed her head and carried it back to his king. King Gerard had ordered it paraded through the captive realms, then sent it back to her mother the queen in an ornate casket.

Hana was only twenty years old. She’d been the golden child who combined her father’s good looks and street-savvy charm and her mother’s ability to bring people together and lead. She was one who could walk into a room and command it within minutes. She’d been a symbol of hope, the promise that the Gray Wolf line would survive.

If the Maker is good, and all-powerful, Adrian thought, then why would this be allowed to happen? What cruel twist of fate sent a large Ardenine company into the borderlands in an area that hadn’t seen fighting for nearly a year? Most importantly, why Hana? Why not Adrian? She was the heir; he was in every way the spare.

“What brings you to the markets?” his father said, draping an arm around Adrian’s shoulders. He was never afraid to show affection in public. “Are you buying or selling?”

“I wanted to talk to you. Privately.”

His father eyed him keenly. “You’re selling then, I believe,” he said. “I have some time right now. Come to breakfast, and we’ll talk.”





2


A CRUEL FROST


They chose a place called the Drovers’ Inn, a hostelry on market square that Adrian had never been to. Everyone knew his father, of course; the server led them to the very best table, near the hearth, and clunked steaming mugs of cider down in front of them. “I’m so sorry, Lord Alister,” she said, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. “All we got is porridge and a wee bit of ham, but the bread is fresh this morning.”

“I was hoping for porridge,” his father said, signaling for her to bring two bowls. Setting the bouquet carefully aside, he leaned his sword against the wall and slung his cloak over the back of a chair and sat. He always sat facing the door, a throwback to his streetlord days.

He looked tired, the dark circles under his eyes still visible against his sun-kissed skin. He’d lost weight, too, during the long marching season. Adrian resisted the temptation to reach out and grip his father’s hand so he could look for damage. “Da,” he said. “Are you . . . ?”

“I’m all right,” his father said, taking a deep swallow of cider. “It’s been a hard season for all of us.”

“But now you’re leaving again.” Adrian had promised himself that he wouldn’t sulk like a child, but he came close.

At that, his father hunched his shoulders and darted a guilty look his way. “Your mother’s seen wolves every day for the last week. Something bad is about to happen, and I need to figure out what it is, and how to prevent it.”

Visions of gray wolves appeared to descendants of the Gray Wolf line of queens in times of trouble and change. They were actually the dead queens—ancestors of the living queens of the Fells, come back as a warning.

“How can you figure out how to prevent something when you don’t know what it is?” Wolves had appeared in the days before Hana died, but it had happened anyway. To Adrian, a vague warning was worse than none at all.

The porridge arrived, steaming, with the promised bits of ham arranged on top for show.

When the server left again, his father said, “I think that the attack on Hana’s triple was more than very bad luck. I think she was the target.”

“How would they know it was her?” Adrian asked. “How would they know where she was?”

His father leaned across the table. “I think someone told them. I think Arden has a spy on the inside.”

“No,” Adrian said, with conviction. “Who would do that? Everyone loved her. And why would Arden target Hana in particular? She’s the heir—I know that—but wouldn’t it have made more sense to go after General Dunedain?”

“Not if the goal is to break your mother’s heart,” his father said. “Captain Byrne and Shilo Trailblazer have been over the killing field dozens of times. From the looks of things, it wasn’t just a platoon—it was an entire company. Hana was smart, and a strong fighter, but it’s unlikely she would take down a half dozen Ardenines before they killed her—unless they were holding back, trying to take her alive.” He paused, glancing around for eavesdroppers. “There’s more,” he said. “It appears that her death wound was self-inflicted. We believe that when she realized that she was about to be captured, she shoved her own dagger through her heart.”

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